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Name: McWilliams v. Dunn
Case #: 16-5294
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/19/2017
Subsequent History: 137 S.Ct. 1790

State court unreasonably applied clearly established U.S. Supreme Court precedent in finding that an examination by a competent psychiatrist without more satisfies the expert requirements under Ake v. Oklahoma (1985) 470 U.S. 68. McWilliams was convicted of capital murder in Alabama. The trial court granted defense counsel's request for neurological testing, and a psychiatrist examined McWilliams. Because the defense received the psychiatrist's report and additional mental health records right before sentencing, counsel asked for a continuance, telling the court he needed an expert to review the documents. The court ultimately denied the continuance and sentenced McWilliams to death, citing evidence…

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Name: People v. Vega-Robles
Case #: A137121
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 03/07/2017

Gang experts’ testimony did not run afoul of People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665 because it was either general non-case-specific background, based on the experts’ personal knowledge, or non-testimonial. Vega-Robles appealed his murder convictions and gang enhancements challenging, among other things, the gang experts' testimony on hearsay and confrontation grounds. The Court of Appeal rejected the argument. The Supreme Court granted review and ultimately transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Sanchez. Held: Affirmed, in part. Sanchez held that the hearsay rule bars an expert from relating "case-specific facts about which the…

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Name: People v. Ochoa
Case #: A137763
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 01/13/2017

Defendant failed to show that gang expert's opinion testimony violated the confrontation clause. A jury convicted Ochoa of a number of offenses, including threatening public officials, and found true gang enhancements. He appealed, arguing that portions of the gang expert's opinion testimony were based on hearsay that violated the confrontation clause, specifically the expert's reliance on reports that the individuals who committed the requisite predicate acts were gang members. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court granted review and ultimately transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of People v. Sanchez (2016) 63…

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Name: People v. Burroughs
Case #: B267353
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 12/05/2016

Indefinite sexually violent predator (SVP) commitment reversed where trial court prejudicially allowed the prosecution expert to relate substantial amounts of inadmissible hearsay. Appellant was committed to the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) for an indefinite term as an SVP. He appealed, arguing he was prejudiced by the admission of inadmissible hearsay evidence during the testimony of a prosecution expert. Held: Reversed. In SVP cases, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant previously committed a sexually violent offense and currently suffers from a mental disorder that renders it likely he will commit a sexually violent offense in…

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Name: People v. Meraz
Case #: B245657
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 12/21/2016

Gang expert related case-specific hearsay during testimony in violation of People v. Sanchez but error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. After the Court of Appeal affirmed Meraz's gang-related murder conviction, the Supreme Court granted review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665. Held: Affirmed. Sanchez held that "case-specific out-of-court statements conveyed by the prosecution's gang expert constituted inadmissible hearsay under state law and, to the extent they were testimonial, ran afoul of Crawford." In this case, the gang expert testified about the Terra Bella…

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Name: People v. Stamps
Case #: A142424
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 09/30/2016

Expert testimony that pills possessed by defendant matched pills displayed on a website called "Ident-A-Drug" was inadmissible hearsay under People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665. During Stamps' drug possession trial, the court permitted a criminologist to testify as an expert that she identified the pills found in Stamps' possession as controlled substances by visually comparing them to pictures on the Ident-A-Drug website. Stamps appealed, arguing that the expert's testimony was based on inadmissible hearsay. Held: Reversed. Sanchez recently altered the law concerning the admissibility of expert testimony based on hearsay by adopting the following rule: when an expert relates…

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Name: People v. Wright
Case #: B269705
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 10/24/2016

Commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP) reversed where sole evidence that defendant suffered from a requisite mental disorder was an expert's flawed testimony. Wright was committed as an SVP after his conviction for oral copulation of a child under 18. He had three prior convictions for committing lewd acts on 14 and 15 year olds. To prove that Wright had a diagnosed mental disorder that made it likely he would engage in sexually violent criminal behavior, the prosecutor admitted expert testimony that Wright probably had hebephilia, i.e., sexual arousal interest in pubescent age children. The expert conceded that children…

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Name: People v. Sotelo-Urena
Case #: A144021
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 10/26/2016

Homeless man's murder conviction reversed where trial court excluded expert evidence that the homeless experience heightened sensitivity to perceived threats of violence, which would have supported self-defense claims. Sotelo-Urena, a homeless man, stabbed Bloom to death. During police interviews, Sotelo-Urena claimed that Bloom had stabbed him on a previous occasion and that he thought Bloom was reaching for a knife to stab him again. He was convicted of first degree murder and appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion and denied him the right to present a complete defense by excluding as irrelevant and inappropriate expert testimony that…

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Name: People v. Sibrian
Case #: A143369
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 09/07/2016

During trial for resisting an officer, court did not abuse its discretion by allowing expert testimony concerning excessive force where the arresting officer used more than bare hands. During Sibrian's trial for resisting an officer (Pen. Code, §69), the prosecution had an expert on excessive force give opinion testimony, based on a hypothetical that closely tracked the facts of this case, that an arresting officer's use of force (punching and tasering someone to remove him from his car during a traffic stop) was consistent with the "industry standard." The jury convicted Sibrian, who appealed and argued that the expert's testimony…

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Name: People v. Garlinger
Case #: C074480
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 06/01/2016

Expert testimony that cell phone tower data could be used to establish caller's approximate location did not rely on a new scientific methodology and was therefore not subject to the standard set forth in People v. Kelly (1976) 17 Cal.3d 24. At Garlinger's robbery trial, the prosecution established his identity as the perpetrator in part with expert testimony by a detective that his cell phone records showed that he was in the vicinity of the robbery when it occurred. The jury convicted Garlinger. He appealed, arguing that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to the detective's…

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